South Gloucestershire Council (19 021 187)

Category : Adult care services > Safeguarding

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 26 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There is no fault by the Council in the way it undertook a safeguarding investigation into concerns about how Mr & Mrs X managed their adult daughter’s finances. It acted properly and in accordance with the law

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains about the way the Council treated him and his wife during a safeguarding investigation about how they managed their adult daughter’s finances.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the written complaint and the correspondence between the Council and Mr X, including the Council’s response to the complaint. I have considered documents this office obtained from the Council. I have also taken account of relevant legislation. Both Mr X and the Council have had the opportunity to comment on a draft of this document, and I have considered the comments made.

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What I found

Relevant legislation

  1. Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 (the Act) defines an adult at risk as an adult who: has needs for care and support (whether or not the local authority is meeting any of those needs) and;
  • is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect; and
  • as a result of those needs is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect;
  • the local authority retains the responsibility for overseeing a safeguarding enquiry and ensuring that any investigation satisfies its duty under section 42 to decide what action (if any) is necessary to help and protect the adult, and to ensure that such action is taken when necessary.
  1. The Act sets out a clear legal framework for how local authorities and other parts of the system should protect adults at risk of abuse or neglect. It must:
  • lead a multi-agency local adult safeguarding system that seeks to prevent abuse and neglect and stop it quickly when it happens;
  • make enquiries, or request others to make them, when it thinks an adult with care and support needs may be at risk of abuse or neglect and,
  • determine what action may be needed.
  1. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) and the Care Act work together to promote the empowerment, safety and wellbeing of adults with care and support needs. Section 44 of the MCA prioritises people’s safety by making willful neglect or mistreatment of an adult who lacks capacity to make decisions a criminal offence.

Information supplied by the Council

  1. The Council has requested that the Ombudsman deal with the information it has supplied during this investigation under section 32(3) of the Local Government Act 1974. This Act prohibits disclosure of information obtained during the course of an investigation where it is considered doing so is contrary to public interest, or that the information is sensitive and relates to another person. In this case the information relates to Miss Y. Although I am unable to go any into any detail about the content of the records I have seen, I am able to give an overview of events and comment on the decisions taken by the Council.
  2. Mr X can be assured I have considered all the records relating to the safeguarding investigation and have given careful consideration to the issues he raised.

What happened

  1. Miss Y is in her fifties. She has a moderate learning disability and physical health issues. Prior to the events complained about, Miss Y had lived with her parents, Mr & Mrs X, all her life. Mrs X held Power of Attorney for Miss Y and managed her financial affairs.
  2. Miss Y has had paid jobs for many years, she currently works part-time. Miss Y disclosed to her sister that Mrs X controlled her finances and that she was not allowed to have access to her money or make decisions about how her money was spent. She says Mrs X took all her wages and benefits and gave her a small allowance each month.
  3. Mr X says he and Mrs X have been wrongly accused of financially exploiting Miss Y. He says they managed their daughter’s finances because she had previously been the victim of financial fraud. Mr X says he and his wife provided everything Miss Y needed. He says it was agreed that Miss Y would contribute a monthly sum towards the household. Mr & Mrs X say they have always had Miss Y’s best interests at heart. They believe Miss Y is easily persuadable and that other family members are responsible for persuading her to make false and malicious allegations.
  4. Mr X says he and his wife did not understand the safeguarding process and they were excluded from the process. He complained to the Council during the investigation, but it repeatedly refused to respond to the complaint whilst the investigation was ongoing. He says the Council was unfair and dismissive and the investigation caused defamation to his and Mrs X’s character.
  5. The Council’s records show Miss Y’s sister contacted it on Miss Y’s behalf, to allege Miss Y was being financially exploited, and that approximately £20,000 of Miss Y’s funds were missing.
  6. Following this, the Council interviewed Miss Y and other family members. The Council also had a telephone discussion with Mrs X. I have had sight of all the notes of discussions the Council had with all parties.
  7. The Council completed a ‘Mental Capacity Assessment’ of Miss Y to determine her understanding of the allegations and her ability to make informed decisions about her day to day living, and the management of her finances. I have seen a copy of this document. It concludes Miss Y had capacity to understand the allegations and that she was able to make decisions about her day to day living, and with support, she was able to manage her finances.
  8. Miss Y reported the allegations to the Police. After initial enquiries, the Police decided not to proceed with a criminal investigation.
  9. The Council says as Miss Y’s wages and benefits were paid into Mrs X’s personal bank account, the account was temporarily frozen for fourteen days until Miss Y’s money could be transferred to her own account. Subsequently, Mrs X was unable to access her own personal funds.
  10. Miss Y was supported to find new accommodation and the Council completed an assessment of her needs. She has no contact with Mr & Mrs X.
  11. I have had sight of all the correspondence Mr X sent to the Council during the safeguarding enquiry expressing his views about the investigation and saying, that he and Mrs X would not cooperate with the Council unless they were the subject “…of a clearly defined criminal investigation”. The Council says it considered the letter an expression of Mr & Mrs X’s views, not a formal complaint. Mr X later submitted a complaint to the Council saying he had not received a response. The Council responded saying it had not considered his letter a complaint and that it would not deal with a complaint until the safeguarding investigation was complete.
  12. Following the completion of the safeguarding investigation, the Council wrote to Mr & Mrs X to say it could not discuss the safeguarding investigation in any detail, but it had taken account of the views of all involved, and that a social worker had contacted them early in the process to try and establish their perspective. Mr X says he did not receive the letter and asked the Council for a copy, which it could not provide. I have had sight of an undated letter which the Council says it sent to Mr X.
  13. Mr X was dissatisfied with the Council’s response and submitted a further complaint. The records show a Council officer had lengthy discussion with Mrs X on 3 March 2020. I have seen a copy of the notes of the discussion. Mrs X refuted the allegations made by Miss Y and wanted the information removing from the Council’s records. The officer told Mrs X this was not possible, but it had recorded her views. Following the call, the officer received a voicemail message from Mr X saying he wanted all contact to be in writing and he would only deal with the complaints team. Mr X refutes this and says his only contact with the Council was by letter.
  14. Mr X later received a response from the complaints team, the author of the letter explained the Council’s obligations under the Care Act 2014, and the Data Protection Act 2018, and said the Council was unable to share any information about the safeguarding investigation. The officer reminded Mr X he had previously refused to engage with the Council unless there was a criminal investigation. It invited him to contact a nominated officer if he wished to add any further views about the allegations alleged by Miss Y. The Council did not hear from Mr X again.

Analysis

  1. It is not my role to determine whether the allegations made against Mr & Mrs X have any substance. My role is to determine if, following the concerns about possible mismanagement of Miss Y’s financial affairs, the Council acted properly.
  2. I have considered the process the Council followed and found no fault in its actions.
  3. Miss Y and her sister raised concerns about how Miss Y’s financial affairs were managed. These were legitimate concerns for the Council, and it had a responsibility to investigate. The initial information gathered indicated a potential criminal offence.
  4. The Council also had a duty to inform the bank of its concerns because Miss Y’s benefits went into Mrs X’s personal account. I cannot criticise the decision to freeze Mrs X’s bank account.
  5. During the safeguarding investigation, the Council interviewed Miss Y and completed an assessment of her mental capacity to determine her understanding of the allegations and her ability to engage with the investigation. It also assessed her ability to make decisions about her life. Although I am not able to go any detail about this, I can say I have seen the completed assessments and they are completed properly.
  6. I have also had sight of all the notes of the Council’s engagement/contact with Miss Y, and other family members. The notes are objective and include all parties’ views, including Mrs X. I find no fault here.
  7. I appreciate being subject to a safeguarding investigation is distressing. It must have been a difficult time for Mr & Mrs X, particularly as the Council was unable to share much of the information it had been given because it had a duty to protect Miss Y’s confidentiality.
  8. The Council had a valid basis for its investigation, it acted correctly and in accordance with the law. Mr & Mrs X can be reassured that the Council did give equal weight to the information they provided.
  9. I find no fault in the way the Council dealt with Mr X’s complaint. The initial correspondence Mr X sent to the Council makes no reference to a complaint, it sets out his views on the allegation. In any event, the Council could not have dealt with a complaint until the safeguarding investigation was complete. There is no fault by the Council here. Mr X disputes he received the Council’s letter dated 28 January 2020. I cannot come to a finding on this. Although I have seen a copy of the letter, it is undated, I cannot say with certainty that the Council sent it, and if it did, whether Mr X received it.
  10. When the investigation was complete, the Council responded to Mr X and explained the legal framework of the investigation, and that it could not share information with him. It offered Mr X the opportunity of recording his views in more detail and provided the contact details of a nominated officer. There is no fault by the Council here.

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Final decision

  1. There is no evidence of fault by the Council in this complaint.
  2. It is on this basis; the complaint will be closed.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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